Writing Advice: When You’re Stuck


I think we’ve all been there — that moment when you don’t know what to write next. You have the general outline of your story and you may even know what the next scene is, but you’re not sure what comes right now. Being “stuck” and experiencing writer’s block can be the absolute worst. Sometimes the best thing is to walk away from your writing project and think about it for a while. But if you don’t have time for that, or if you’d rather keep pushing forward, there are some basic questions you can ask yourself to get the writing gears moving again.

In a recent post on Writer Unboxed, author Cathy Yardley wrote about these specific questions. In her opinion, there are four questions that can “identify where [writers are] getting tripped up, and often how to fix it.” I always find posts like this to be helpful. Having a list to work off of can help you know where to start fixing the problem, especially if you’re feeling stuck. The great thing about Cathy’s central questions is that they all focus on character. I’ve written here before about how important characters are to a story. So I like the fact that getting un-stuck, in Cathy’s opinion, begins there.

Here are the four questions that Cathy offers in her post:

  1. What does your character want?
  2. What is the consequence if the character doesn’t achieve what he wants?
  3. What’s the worst thing that can happen to the character, in terms of the story goal?
  4. How is the character different at the end of the book, as a result of the struggles he’s been through, as opposed to the beginning of the book?

That first question is the most basic thing you can ask of any story — what is it that your character wants? What is his or her motivation? Reminding yourself of that can get you back on the right track. Once you figure that out, ask yourself question two. Knowing what will happen if your character fails to get what he or she wants can help you develop conflicts in your story. Who can stop your character from achieving desires? What situations might throw monkey wrenches into your character’s plans?

The last two questions deal with more long-term, big picture kinds of information. First, if you know your story goal, think about what the worst case scenario is for your character. Maybe you want to write that worst case scenario, and maybe you want to completely avoid it. Either way, you have a starting point for writing. Second, how do you want your character to ultimately end up? Envisioning that final endpoint can help you understand what you have to do next to get there.

I hope that these four questions are helpful to you, especially if you’re feeling stuck. But even if you aren’t give these a try and see if they help you better understand your story and where it’s headed next. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan


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